Prometheus & Pandora IV: Edifice Wrecks
COVID-19 has tested our faith in science, but its origins are the final exam
*Note — My current focus is researching COVID-19’s origins, as part of the D.R.A.S.T.I.C. team of scientists, journalists & researchers. Recent news: D.R.A.S.T.I.C.’s research forms a large portion of the basis for investigations begun by the US Senate, House & National Institutes of Health. Recent appearances and/or discussion on 60 Minutes, The Joe Rogan Exp., Fox News, JRE [again], Bill Maher, CNN
*“Trust the Science, Not the Scientists”*
The COVID-19 pandemic was destined to be a uniquely profound moment in the history of science, in that it represented the first time in human history that modern medical technology could be applied to a pandemic of historic proportions. And, despite the concerns I’ve written about below, there have been many triumphs amidst this tragedy.
Comparing 2020 to 1918 may seem like a low bar, but if COVID-19 had emerged in 1918 the number of deaths would be closer to 30 million than 3 million. Despite having no cure, no specific treatments or vaccines and near-global spread in 2 months, scientists embarked on the largest single research project in the history of mankind, and created dozens of new treatments and vaccines. Of all coronavirus research published in the last half-century (since 1971), 92.7% has been published since January 10th, 2020, when the first genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was shared. Compared to 2018 data, COVID-19 research accounted for 3.9% of all global research & 11% of output in the combined bio/biomedical/health science fields.
It’s true that humanity has benefited from broad increases in standards of living - since 1980, the proportion of global population living below the ‘extreme poverty’ level has shrunk from 50% to 10% while nearly doubling in real terms, from 4.5 billion to 7.9 billion. However, it’s also true that the scale of the pandemic has been incredibly misunderstood. Many of my first articles last spring were focused on exposing the 'middle' - the fact that partisan hype/dismissal made it impossible for people [Americans, at least] to understand the actual threat. I made the following pie chart to illustrate how COVID-19 compared to the off-season months of seasonal flu, as part of my fall projection of US COVID-19 deaths through May (published 10/7):
The general expectation among scientists was for COVID-19 to peak in the winter, just as the seasonal flu. With that in mind, consider what I discovered while comparing the summer waves to the CDC’s historical influenza records: on the average day from June - September last year, more Americans died from COVID-19 than from the average 120-day off-season in the previous century. This also meant that COVID-19 killed more Americans in four months than the sum of all 101 summers since the original Spanish Flu in 1918-1919, in the midst of the first true lock-down in a century.
The previous articles in my ‘Prometheus & Pandora’ series [informally, I call it ‘Requiem for a Steam…..ing Pile of BS’]:
Part I - Trust the Scientists - Not the Science? [Fauci helped framed the debate]
II - The West must not go gently into a COVID-19 goodnight [The big picture]
III - The Apocryphal Origins of SARS-CoV-2 [How scientists manipulated research]
**IV - Edifice Wrecks [How much are scientists prepared to lose to protect themselves?]
Against this historic backdrop, it’s not surprising that people across the globe have mixed emotions about the public health response where they live. Faith in the abilities of scientific establishments to protect the rest of us has been rocked by a reality tv show in which almost every decision, projection, recommendation and mandate has been ineffectual or worse. And, even if that wasn’t initially the case, partisans would immediately undermine the opposing side anyway.
The frequency of these errors has led to questioning of everything, even those things scientists got right. My intuition tells me that the reason for such backlash has less to do with the esteem our societies have bestowed on them, and more to do with the esteem they have bestowed on themselves.
-History is written by the victors - or is it?
Experience has taught me that this common nugget of wisdom is both overused and misunderstood; history is often written by whomever wants to control a narrative more, and sometimes it’s just easier to re-write history when in power. What most Americans don’t know is that, in addition to China’s destruction of early lab samples, deletion of hundreds of news articles and mass 'disappearance' of early whistleblowers, a vastly smaller and more targeted campaign of censorship was taking place elsewhere - especially in the United States. That last point is crucial, because American scientists and institutions have driven global research for most of the last 100 years - either through innovation, funding or both.
As my research into COVID-19 has progressed over the last 14 months, the ‘arc of evidence’ has never bent towards the SARS-CoV-2 virus having emerged via random, natural chance. At the same time, the messaging from the leadership of our scientific institutions has remained fairly constant; the unwillingness to adjust to new evidence or allow open debate on lockdowns, various therapeutics and the continued validity of school closures is now questioned even by former supporters of the strategy.
As I write this on Sunday evening, 5/9/21, global scientific leadership remains defensively crouched with its back against the wall, aware of the damage to their reputation but desperate to maintain the illusion of control. Consider this an open letter, from an observer who’s examined the mountain of evidence:
Fairly & unfairly, your overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been harshly criticized, and it was almost unavoidable that the issues surrounding pandemic response would be politicized, and used as a sword and/or a shield with which to engage political rivals. That process has played out in countries across the globe.
It is clear that the strategy you chose to implement was to lean on the accumulation of public goodwill and trust earned over the decades, in order to reassure the public that any steps taken were ultimately in our collective best interest. I hope that the events of the last year [if nothing else] will disabuse you of the notion that citizens are still willing to blindly accept your emergency declarations at face value. Trust cannot be instantly gained, and the broad swath of evidence now emerging from the 50 states has struck down many of the sacred cows epidemiologists had compiled as the optimal plan for mitigating pandemics in recent years. It was certainly improper for President Trump to insert his opinion into the debate - but it was ultimately more damaging to pretend that a legitimate debate didn’t exist.
2 simple observations arise from this reality:
1) We [citizens] can handle the truth. We definitely handle truth better if we’re told before everyone is dead - at a minimum, before the annual memorials begin.
In our modern age of global connection, you must approach your civic responsibilities from a position of honesty; for example, the unwillingness to allow doctors to prescribe various drugs off-label [Ivermectin, Hydroxychloroquine, etc.], despite a high degree of patient willingness and provider experience with the medications, was a massive failure. Why? Because anyone willing to waive compensation for complications arising from EUA-approved vaccines would likely be willing to do the same if emergency needs meant the use of off-label treatments that at least were fully approved for….anything. Instead, the world watched the same people justify or reject various options, despite the accumulation of real-world evidence that rarely correlated with the choices made by officials.
Personally, I had no dog in this particular fight, other than thinking that this was one of those ‘everything but the kitchen sink’-worthy crises, but it’s hard to review the body of evidence found and the decisions made and then conclude that officials’ priorities were centered on anyone but themselves.
2) Science should focus on leadership, not censorship.
Nowhere is this statement more applicable than in the matter of COVID-19’s origins. As a matter of trust, the ultimate answer is less important than how the scientific community conducts itself in the meantime. For starters, I’ll list the options, taking the liberty to paraphrase:
1α) Where did COVID-19 come from?
A) Nature? [zoonotic emergence, zoonosis]
B) Nurture? [lab emergence, oops-onosis]
Since A) has been extensively covered elsewhere, we’re going to use hypothesis B) to illustrate the importance of the 2 observations above. I should note that regardless of how COVID-19 came to Wuhan, it left via 5 million travelers during the 3+ weeks China waited before locking down Wuhan; some of the time was filled by ordering labs to destroy all of their samples after testing. I should also note that this was several weeks before the lab theory was a ‘thing.’
Ηυβρισ Springs Eternal
In almost every case, the zoonotic claim/criticism of a lab leak have been driven by the same core group of scientists that have been heavily involved in gain-of-function (GOF) research on coronaviruses (CoV) for more than a decade; the Ηυβρισ [hubris] is stunning. Peter Daszak has been raising funds via his non-profit EcoHealth Alliance with the explicit aim of furthering gain-of-function research, as if it were the only way to develop vaccines for emerging pandemic threats. A large portion of the grants he’s procured have gone to the WIV, and he has personally assisted in their research several times over 15 years.
Zheng-Li Shi (ZLS, leader of a main lab within the WIV) had worked with Baric in NC, practicing advanced passaging techniques and chimera development, and then returned to Wuhan in 2015 to apply those lessons to her own collection of CoVs - which happens to be the largest on Earth. Virus sequences pulled from those samples were stored in databases that have been taken off line, with the last one removed by Shi herself not long after first being ordered to return to Wuhan from a conference elsewhere in China on 12/30/19. Since then, Shi has given lectures with slides showing phylogenetic trees containing β-CoV’s whose sequences [or existence] have never been published [discovered by DRASTIC]. The lack of other β-CoV examples [or genetic ‘backbones’ used for genetic engineering] was one of the main arguments in the paper The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2 for a natural origin of the virus, the most viewed & cited scientific article about COVID-19 [5.3 million views in all]. There is no logical reason to withhold data that would likely exonerate the WIV & China - unless, of course, it would prove their guilt instead.
I finally finished going through more than 85,000 pages of FOIA documents related to Ralph Baric & Peter Daszak & the NIH; The most surprising thing I’ve come across was something I haven’t seen discussed by US RTK or anyone else, although given the volume of files to go through that’s understandable.
Specifically, based on the 2/17 documents [a 337 page sub-set of Baric emails], US Right-to-Know had published an article about the coordination between Baric, Daszak and others in preparing a document to be published that was written to quash speculation of the rumor that COVID-19 had leaked from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The emails also show an earlier letter written along the same lines, that had been prepared by NASEM for the OSTP (The White House’s Office of Science & Technology Policy). As I wrote in Part III:
While reading through the correspondence, I noticed Dr. Fauci had been included in an email chain just prior to 2/4, when the group of scientists was discussing the content that should be included within the OSTP letter. This had already been noticed, but since it was the only such appearance of Fauci as a mail recipient, it seems to have been considered simply as a curiosity, showing that he was aware of the general conversation about how the scientific community should respond to growing speculation of gain-of-function studies being the cause of COVID-19.
However, the attachment to that email [see Part I] was a timeline of speakers for the event and the explanation of its purpose:
[Per US Right-to-Know’s recent FOIA request]
Kristian Anderson, Peter Dazsak, Robert Baric and others were gung-ho about putting out this statement, and a second one that was ultimately published a few days later, but in the midst of 80K+ emails [whose response chains run backwards] some of the details are out of order, and the connection to a specific meeting was never made by US Right-to-Know, who focused on the backdoor coordination between two of the scientists who would later be implicated by their publicly-available research.
….that Fauci supported efforts to combat ‘misinformation’ - specifically, inquiries into whether gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Given that Baric and the WIV had received significant amounts of funding over the previous decade, coordinated by Peter Daszak, from the NIH, it’s not terribly surprising that Fauci would’ve wanted to suppress information that could lead to criticism concerning federal funding. Indeed, that was only one of many gain-of-function projects supported by the NIH.
Fauci’s opposition of many of President Trump’s positions on various aspects of the pandemic has been characterized as a heroic defense of science against anti-intellectual conspiracy theories, but Fauci’s advocacy and efforts to suppress research into COVID’s potential lab origins, and to signal solidarity with GOF researchers, came just as President Trump would have begun to hear intelligence reports that considered that to be a plausible line of investigation.
In March 2020, Trump aired his suspicions publicly, almost certainly because he had seen intelligence reports along those lines. Only recently have officials like Matthew Pottinger and David Asher come forward to discuss investigations into China, and as the Dep. National Security Advisor, Pottinger would’ve seen that intelligence as well as been part of the intended audience for the OSTP memo.
How did this impact research into COVID-19’s origins? The highlights in this image show the stunning output from the researchers either present at the meeting or connected to it; by comparison, there were only 2 peer-reviewed articles advocating the possibility of a lab origin before August, out of 23,000. It would’ve been fairly simple to put that into practice, because the speakers at that meeting were Andrew Pope [NASEM], Kevin Droegemeier [OSTP], Chris Hassell [HHS & P3CO] and Anthony Fauci [NIAID]. Pope was the policy director of the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine, which honors the best American scientists and publishes research. Droegemeier was the presidential science advisor, Hassell was the chief science advisor of the Dept. of Health & Human Services, and Fauci has been the #2 at the NIH, which controls all federal funding of academic scientific research. That’s a lot of levers that can be pulled to ensure compliance, and it obviously worked:
Here’s the same trend, writ large over 14 months, with 387 news or journal articles discussing aspects of the two origin hypotheses:
The key points for your consideration, then:
The Arc of History Bends towards…..Justice?
The COVID-19 pandemic represents a true paradigm shift in modern history, but its impact can’t fully be measured until its origin story is told - largely because the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan came just as China has been closing the gap with the US to become the largest economy in the world [now estimated to occur circa 2028]. China’s rise means that the United States once again has a near-peer geo-political foil intent on hegemonic control of east Asia and the Pacific
As the accumulation of scientific evidence about COVID-19 grows, the needle has been moving in only 1 direction - towards scientific research in Wuhan - and the global scientific community is in danger of repeating the same mistake twice, by doubling down on trusting them. Regardless of what the origin story is, the the scientific community must decide whether or not it will continue to censor debate in order to protect its cherished heroes. It’s likely that Americans would not be happy to discover how their taxes funded and enabled research that ultimately sparked a pandemic, or how Peter Daszak wants to sextuple that total for the Global Virome Project.
But, I would argue that staying silent would be far worse - because if it ultimately emerges that COVID-19 is the result of science experiments that went wrong, then the Ivory Tower that has been built around scientists will crumble to dust, just as humanity comes face-to-face with exponential technological and societal upheaval. COVID-19 is likely the first tremor of the coming biotech revolution, and our loss would be China’s gain. Now that sounds like a Greek tragedy.
-C. H. Rixey
~[My ‘living and breathing’ list of 387+ lab-leak sources was just published on ResearchGate, finally available as a downloadable spreadsheet.]